Newman’s essential truth and his life long battle

Newman's essential truth and his life long battle
Simply to His grace and wholly
     Light and life and strength belong,
And I love, supremely, solely,
     Him the holy, Him the strong
—   Dream of Gerontius

Such is Newman’s expression of the essential truth as put in the mouth of Gerontius on his death bed. It is an acknowledgment of total dependence upon God for the light of his mind, for life itself, and for any strength that constitute the activities daily life. He utters this remarkable, beautiful, statement of faith and love as he becomes aware of his impending death. Here is Newman’s description of the awareness of death:

As though my very being had given way,
     As though I was no more a substance now,
And could fall back on nought to be my stay,
     (Help, loving Lord! Thou my sole Refuge,
And turn no whither, but must needs decay
     And drop from out the universal frame
Into that shapeless, scopeless, blank abyss,
     That utter nothingness, of which I came:
This is it that has come to pass in me;
     Oh, horror! this it is, my dearest, this;
So pray for me, my friends, who have not strength
     to pray.
The Dream of Gerontius charts the ascent of the soul to God after death. As he ascends with his angel to the throne of God, the judgment seat, the angelic song is heard:
Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
The Dream of Gerontius
Pope Benedict XVI used this hymn for the beatification ceremony. Near the end of his life Newman that explain his life long battle was to defend this truth, a truth subverted by “liberalism” in religion. As he received the Cardinal’s hat he gave a speech (Biglietto Speech 1879):
And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often. Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith.

On the eve of his conversion (really, the year preceding) he wrote the Development of Doctrine; he put the truth this way:

Now there was this cardinal distinction between Christianity and the religions and philosophies by which it was surrounded, nay even the Judaism of the day, that it referred all truth and revelation to one source, and that the Supreme and Only God. Pagan rites which honored one or other out of ten thousand deities; philosophies which scarcely taught any source of revelation at all; Gnostic heresies which were based on Dualism, adored angels, or ascribed the two Testaments to distinct authors, could not regard truth as one, unalterable, consistent, imperative, and saving. But Christianity started with the principle that there was but “one God and one Mediator,” and that He, “who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the Prophets, had in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” He had never left Himself without witness, and now He had come, not to undo the past, but to fulfill and perfect it. His Apostles, and they alone, possessed, venerated, and protected a Divine Message, as both sacred and sanctifying; and, in the collision and conflict of opinions, in ancient times or modern, it was that Message, and not any vague or antagonist teaching, that was to succeed in purifying, assimilating, transmuting, and taking into itself the many-colored beliefs, forms of worship, codes of duty, schools of thought, through which it was ever moving. It was Grace, and it was Truth.

Blessed John Henry Newman  is truly a prophetic voice. His clarity, his confidence, his peace is a gift to us all. He ended his speech with these words:

I have no fear at all that it really can do aught of serious harm to the Word of God, to Holy Church, to our Almighty King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Faithful and True, or to His Vicar on earth. . . . . Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.


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